Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Impressions from China - Finding the 'qi' in me

Took my first Chinese painting class today. It's harder than it looks! My bamboo plants look pretty pathetic...more like a bunch of measly black colored bananas.

The art teacher says we have to use the 'qi' in our body to control the brush - how much pressure one uses while painting & how we hold the brush will determine what the end result will look like.

Hmm...I wonder if George Lucas was inspired by the Chinese concept of 'qi' when he created the Star Wars saga.

I have signed up for a package of 10 classes. Hopefully I will improve.

In the words of Obi-wan Kenobi: Use the Force, aliendoc.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Someone complained of being overcharged by a GP during the Chinese New Year:

Clinic charged $42 for consultation over CNY

DURING the long weekend to celebrate Chinese New Year, an incident occurred which I feel I have to clear my doubts about.

It happened that my grandmother had gastric flu and had to consult a doctor. As it was a public holiday, we had to go to Tampines Central where there was a 24-hour family clinic.

It is actually quite heartening to know there is still a clinic nearby when you need one, even on a public holiday.

When we reached the clinic, we found out it charged $42 for consultation alone. This charge applied from Feb 17 to 20, from 7am to midnight. It did not include any medicine or anything else.

I find it disturbing that patients are charged such a high amount just for consultation. Are the doctors different? Is the service provided different?

Just because the clinic is open 24 hours and has to stay open during public holidays, it does not have the right to raise consultation fees so high.

It is true that staff may have to be paid more during public holidays, but there were three staff members at the dispensary when two would have been more than sufficient.

I would like to know if there are rules or guidelines which private clinics have to follow regarding the charging of consultation fees during public holidays. I do not think it is right that patients who fall ill during this period are charged so much more.

It may be reasonable to charge $20, but $42 is far too much. On a normal day, $42 would be more than enough to pay for the consultation and medicine.

Andrew Chia Teck Fatt

ST Forum, Feb 23, 2007

Then today more letters appeared in the papers in response to this. But I wanted to give a standing ovation to this particular person:

Thank docs who make themselves available

I REFER to the letter, 'Clinic charged $42 for consultation over CNY' by Mr Andrew Chia Teck Fatt (ST, Feb 23).

I do sympathise with Mr Chia, but I honestly feel he should not begrudge the fact that his grandmother was charged $42. In fact, he should be grateful to the doctor who made himself available on a public holiday when most clinics are closed.

If he had taken his grandmother to a public hospital, he would have had to pay a higher fee. Public hospitals charge no less than $70 per consultation. In addition, he would have had to wait at least a couple of hours to see a doctor.

I called a plumber recently to fix a leaking tap. He charged me $400 without batting an eyelid.

I called an electrician to fix a fuse box, and he charged me $600 without hesitation.

I called a roof contractor to fix a leaking roof. He sent a worker up to the roof with a pail of cement. The worker came down within five minutes and I had a $500 bill. I paid because it was after office hours and a public holiday.

Why do we complain when we pay $42 to the hardworking doctor who makes himself available on a public holiday? It's a pittance to say the least.

I believe the good doctor should have charged Mr Chia $100 for a consultation on a public holiday. And that, I feel, is still very modest.

Amy Ng Siok Im (Ms)

ST Forum Feb 26, 2007

I have said it before & I will say it again. Singaporeans do not realise how good they have it. The very fact that GP clinics stay open on public holidays/weekends/24 hours a day is not appreciated. $42 for a consultation is extremely reasonable under the circumstances. But unfortunately, in Singapore, priorities are all screwed up. It's OK to pay $2,000 for a Tod's handbag or thousands of dollars to the beautician for a facial spa package. But when it comes to your health, $42 is WAAYYYY too much.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Impressions from China - Shanghai

My first impression of Shanghai as we headed to our service apartment from the airport, was that it didn't feel as "foreign"as Beijing. Things looked familiar - the roads were better maintained, the buildings looked more modern, even the people looked different (northern Chinese faces seem to be broader, & their complexion seems to be darker), closer to the southern Chinese faces that I have been so used to seeing in Singapore. More signs were bilingual (Chinese + English) so that I didn't feel so lost.

Traffic was just as bad (if not worse) than in Beijing. People seemed more aggressive, especially when we were in crowded situations like at the Bund or Yuyuan, which during the holiday season, was thronged, and I mean THRONGED, with visitors. It was literally push-and-shove in order to make ones way through to ones destination.

The crowd at Yuyuan
The city definitely looked more developed than BJ. Walking along the Bund, we noticed that one side of the Huang Pu River had architecture reminiscent of its colonial days, while across the river, modern buildings were the norm.

The "old"side of the Huangpu River

The modern side of the Huangpu river

The Shanghai maglev train is another example of modernization. We did a round trip on this train for the sake of our kids...after all, how often does one get to ride in a train at 430 km/h?!

Shanghai Maglev train

One does not visit Shanghai & not rave about the food! From fine Italian cuisine (read: expensive) at Cucina on the 56th floor of the Grand Hyatt in Pudong, to different varieties of buns at a Mantou restaurant in Yuyuan, to delicious (& greasy!) shenjian mantou costing us only 70 yuan for 72 buns which the 9 of us devoured, one can find an amazing variety of food available in the city. The pig's elbows ("tipang") is a must. Don't be turned off by the layer of wobbly fat & skin that you see on the surface. Underneath all that, you find the tasty lean braised pork meat...mmm...yummy...

"Souper" buns at Yuyuan

Shenjian mantou - delicious & cheap!

Braised pig elbows "tipang"

Impressions from China - New Year

(Written 12 MN, Feb 17/18,2007)

I gaze out of the bedroom window of our service apartment overlooking downtown Shanghai. The cityscape is covered in a haze created by a combination of fog and smoke from burning fireworks & firecrackers.

Right, left and centre, we seem to be surrounded by rainbow-colored shooting stars exploding to an incessant continuous cacophony of snaps, crackles & booms - explosive retorts from exploding fireworks. It seems neverending, this noise & light show that is welcoming in the Lunar New Year.

I am fascinated by this city, a seemingly foreign & Western Hub in an ancient Oriental country. It reminds meof Hong Kong & Malacca & Penang & Singapore all rolled into one. I look forward to exploring more.

The fireworks are still going off as I write this...and it looks like the city is not going to sleep...not tonight anyway...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gung Hei Fatt Choy

I dreamt of my dearly departed grandmothers last night. The images are vague, as dreams tend to be. I remember snatches of the dream, images of my maternal grandma, my mom & I shopping along Orchard Road, taking shelter from the drizzling rain along the five-foot way near Peranakan Place just outside the Taka jewelry store. What we were shopping for, I don’t know.

Then the dream shifted to my paternal grandmother, urging me to make the booking for a cruise or a hotel or some kind of holiday online before it became all sold out! This is totally radical as my Ah Mah never had an inkling of how to use a computer!

Since time immemorial, people have wondered about dreams & their meanings. I won’t even begin to go into that. What the dream did for me was to evoke memories of Chinese New Year shared with those who are no longer with us, New Year celebrations when extended families were actually in the same country. New Year’s Eve would see us having dinner together: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins. We would pre-arrange the sequence of ‘visitations’ (actually, my beloved but dictatorial maternal grandpa would be the logistician), & even co-ordinate what kind of food we would have at each house so that there would be no overlap!

The morning of New Year’s Day would dawn with my siblings & I waking up, wishing our parents “gung hei fatt choi” & eagerly receiving hong baos from them. We would then dress in our new clothes & head out to the first stop, usually my maternal grandparent’s home. That would mark the start of a whole day of stuffing ourselves silly, mahjong, & for the kids, totaling up the hong bao takings (not necessarily in that order).

I know many people complain about the monotony & tedium of having to visit all their relatives year after year after year. To those people I say: Appreciate what you have when you have it because one day, you’ll wake up missing & wishing for those days.

I know I do.

Gung Hei Fatt Choi/Gong Xi Fa Cai/Happy Chinese New Year everyone!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Impressions from China - This & That

Been here over a month. Can't say I totally feel at home yet, but things are slowly & surely falling into place.

Our immune systems have been challenged. In total, the 4 of us have suffered from 5 bouts of URTI, & 4 bouts of GI-related illnesses in the short time that we've been here. Not fun, but I guess our resistance against new bugs has to be built up.

Chinese New Year is coming up & we're off to Shanghai to visit with some friends. People here get a whole week off for the "chun jie"(Spring Festival), as they call it here. Many return to their home towns & villages, & apparently bus & train tickets are impossible to get this week.

The tid bits I see being sold in supermarkets are not much different from those sold in Singapore. One big difference is that fireworks are allowed to be sold here for the weeks around CNY. We have already started hearing the booms of firecrackers being lit at night; I think this will escalate & peak on New year's Eve & the first few days of the New Year.

Another difference I see is that there is no "yusheng" here. Shouldn't be surprised though, since I think that is a Singaporean "invention".

Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this entry is solely that of aliendoc’s, based on experience in both public & private sector. It in no way reflects policies or opinions of the Powers That Be.

There has been much discussion the last few weeks about MOH making it “easier” for foreign doctors to practise in Singapore. This is supposed to address the shortage of doctors in the country.

There have been arguments & questions raised on why & whether there is actually a shortage at all, especially in the private sector. No, I don’t believe that there is a shortage; it’s a dog eat dog world out there especially in GP-land*. (*I exclude aesthetic practitioners in this group, as I believe they are a different species from what one would perceive as a typical GP…but then, that is whole different kettle of fish altogether ☺. I also exclude doctors who are employees of a larger medical group – this will be expounded upon later.)

Doctors are not businessmen. We were not taught a module on business strategies & economics in medical school. Hence, GP’s end up “killing” each other trying to get a “market share” of patients. They undercut, sign on with HMO’s & MHC’s (whatever you may call it, these 3rd party administrators exist for the sole purpose of making money) just to make ends meet. Business consultants would probably cringe if they saw the kind of decisions that have been made by some of these doctors.

As for the larger medical groups, it’s a different story altogether. Speak to any of their operations managers or HR manager & you would probably discover that recruiting & retaining doctors is a difficult task. Many have a high turnover rate; take a look at the SMA newsletter & you’ll see what I mean - ads repeated issue after issue, seeking doctors to join them.

On the flip side, you have the government polyclinics – obviously overcrowded & evidently understaffed. Junior doctors in hospitals are also lacking (although this may have improved the last few years with increasing medical school intake).

So why the shortage in the government sector? Simple: doctors leave after they complete their obligatory bond. And why do they leave? Perhaps they seek the almighty $. Or they want some autonomy in how they practise. Or they are just sick of the bureaucracy. Like it or not, there is still a strongly hierarchical structure (not to mention the politics!) in the government departments (call it NHG or Singhealth, call it what you like, but in the end, it works the same way ☺). It is hard to be heard unless you go through the proper channels (i.e. somewhat of an obstacle course where you have to clear a few obstacles before reaching the finish line, if at all).

And how would you explain the medical groups’ dilemma of finding & keeping doctors? My take is that doctors working for these groups have very little say (if at all) in how certain patients (read: those under very restrictive HMO/MHC contracts) are managed. After all, these groups have to answer to their shareholders & clients (note: I use the word "clients", not "patients") & the bottom line is VERY important after all (sarcasm intended). So, see as many patients as possible, get as many contracts as possible, & save money for the clients (the companies who contract with them to look after their employees). End result is that doctors will use this as a stepping-stone, a temporary job before they venture out on their own to compete with their colleagues for patients, and the vicious cycle continues.

So will letting in more foreigners in do the job of resolving the numbers problem? Probably partially & temporarily, especially in the government sector & in the medical groups. But it won’t help the GP’s out there who will still be struggling to stay afloat, competing with each other, & forced to charge miniscule amounts for consultation fees.

So if the big wigs want to look at the long term problem of shortage (I prefer to use the word, skewed distribution) of doctors, they will need to examine the causative problems first. Otherwise this will just be another fire-fighting scheme, which does not prevent another fire from starting.

Impressions from China - Aliens

As an alien in China, you begin to appreciate the difficulties that foreign workers meet with when they leave the comfort (not neccesarily just physical, but psychological & emotional as well) of home. A strange new language, different transportation systems, electricity voltages/sockets, customs & culture...when one is inundated by a shock wave of all things new & unfamiliar, it can be extremely daunting. The simple task of shopping for groceries or neccesities in a store takes twice as long when one is trying to interpret the labels on a can/bottle/package.

I have met with many foreigners in the last month that we've been here, hailing from the various continents. It is weirdly comforting to know that no matter where we're from or what our mother tongue, we all share the same stories of fumbling & learning our way around an alien country. I guess being in a foreign land makes our differences seem insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

We have the advantage of accessibilty to information & resources like the Internet & guide books to help us settle in. But most of the manual foreign workers who travel thousands of miles from home searching for a better life do not have that. They rely on sometimes unscrupulous agents & employers to "help" them in their expatriation. And yes, by definition, they are expats too.

So the next time you see a foreign worker ,who labours to help us build those skyscrapers & condos, or who helps you to look after your home, take care of your children/parents, spare them a kind thought & put yourself in their place. After all, once upon a time, most of our ancestors were expatriates too.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Battlestar Galactica

I’ve been glued to the sci-fi series “Battlestar Galactica”. Not the old series from the 70’s, but the revamped one that has been playing on the SciFi channel in the USA since 2003. I bought Season 1, 2 & 2.5 & brought all 3 sets here, in expectation of a relatively barren TV listing in China (which I am now happy to report is not that bad after all ☺).

I was a huge fan of the original series (probably, in great part, due to my crush on Dirk Benedict who played brash, cigar-chomping ace pilot, Starbuck). Star Wars: A New Hope started off my fascination with the scifi genre. When BG came along, it became a favorite of mine. Looking back, I suppose that during my adolescent years was also when my mind started to question if there was something out there in the Universe; after all, statistically speaking, in our humongous universe, there has to be other worlds with intelligent life-forms apart from our big blue marble.

The new series is definitely different from the old. A lot darker for one, & despite its setting, delves into current day issues - war, terrorism, abortion, racism, torture of prisoners (season 2, rated NC-16, addresses the latter & had me cringing at some of the scenes).

With brilliantly written scripts & great acting by veterans Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama) & Mary McDonnell (President Laura Roslin), & relative newcomers Jamie Bamber (Capt Lee “Apollo” Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace), Grace Park (Cylon sleeper agent Lt. Sharon “Boomer” Valerii) & Tricia Helfer (as the babelicious Cylon No. 6/Gina), I have been watching episodes from the series avidly in the last week, going through season 1 & now seasons 2 & 2.5 (don’t ask me why they divided season 2 up). Grace Park especially deserves special mention in season 2 with all the heart-wrenching emotions she must have had to drag up from the depths of her soul in order to portray her character’s situation so adeptly.

Season 3 is being broadcast now in the USA. I can’t wait for the DVD set to be released (or at least for the series to start showing on Cinemax).